I was excited before I even came to the training.
It was December of 2015, and we had just rolled out our Diversity and Inclusion product, Diversity Works, with a group of staff members at the Oregon-based Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center. Diversity Works is an off-the-shelf Cafeteria Learning solution designed to help organizations of all shapes and sizes implement Cafeteria-style learning in a convenient, and easy to implement manner.
“The style of learning was different than the traditional way,” a participant remarked, “but I liked that it gave me the flexibility to participate in the activities I’m more comfortable with. You pick what you want to do, you pick what you want to achieve.”
To provide choice for learners, we set up the materials as nine unique stations around the room, each of which corresponded to one of the session’s three main learning objectives:
- Identify what makes me the unique individual I am
- Seek to understand others
- Consider differing perspectives in the workplace.
As always, we designed the activities to span a range of interaction types (individual, partner, or group), learning experiences (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, reflective, competitive, or problem-solving), and technology types (low-tech or high-tech). At the end of the session, all participants came together for a final shared experience to participate in a diversity and inclusion board game.
Filling in the spaces [during an activity] with a coworker started a discussion. One person shared stereotypes about his Mormon faith. Another person shared about his Jewish faith/ethnicity.
The interactions with others were the most beneficial. Some of the examples of preconceived ideas about others brought to mind my own experiences and I was able to share these with others.
Indeed, shared experience turned out to be an essential cornerstone for learning and insight among employees, and it was a notable hallmark of the experience. In a post-workshop survey, over one-third of participants indicated that they had shared personal experiences related to the topic with others.
“I felt safe enough in this environment to share my personal experiences,” one participant noted. “When others shared their personal experiences, this helped me consider differing perspectives and learn to be more open-minded."
Learning through these kinds of shared experiences is an illustration of constructivism in action: Learners construct and discover meaning and knowledge through a process of active exploration rather than having it presented to them in a pre-constructed, lecture-like format. For many of the activities, there are no right or wrong answers; rather, the bulk of the learning occurs through the participants’ impressions, thoughts, and perspectives as they move through various activities and interact with their peers. One activity, for example, had participants identify what their initial reaction to a specific diversity and inclusion scenario might be, then take the time to think through a more calculated response.
“When [my group] shared our responses with each other, I was surprised that all three of us had the same reaction initially, but then we all decided to respond thoughtfully in a slightly different way,” shared one participant. “It’s both showing diversity and the fact that in a ton of ways we’re the same. It was interesting that the learning was driven by what we were saying to each other in the moment rather than from what we’re hearing in a rote presentation.”
“Those ‘aha moments’ will stick with me,” he continued. “I will remember that [my group] came together, we disagreed, then at the end we were able to kind of look back and reflect and say, ‘Oh yeah, you know what, there is a different way to look at this, maybe there is a different feeling to those words or to how we approach a situation.’ That’s what I took from it, and I don’t see myself forgetting that, especially since I did it and I didn’t just sit and listen."
“This experience made me think in so many ways,” another participant shared. “At the same time I learned how other people think."
Yet another participant contrasted the workshop to a lecture the team had attended in the very same room the day before. “Yesterday we were in this same space [for a training], sitting in chairs all day long,” she explained. “It was frustrating because I think that people learn better when they’re up and moving their bodies. Moving around is definitely my chosen way to learn; I think it engages people more when you do that, and I liked that there were three different options for each category so if we weren’t comfortable doing one activity, then maybe we’d be comfortable doing another one. For example, I didn’t choose to record a history of myself. That was not one that I’d want to do. I did the drawing station instead – I’m not an artist, but it was fun.”
When playing the board game, I shared how I knew a particular answer, and my group learned from me.
It was valuable for me to have the chance to share with coworkers and new clinic staff. The ‘Who I Am’ activity opened participants to share a little bit of their lives and got me to respect them more and understand where they are in life now.
The results of our post-workshop survey reinforced the idea that learning in an active, choice-based way is an effective way to learn. In our evaluation, participants indicated that they are most likely to definitely learn by participating in activities (68%), followed by being given a choice of how to learn (65%), sharing their own knowledge (53%), and lastly, through lecture (50%).
“I would love to see my continuing medical education credits offered in this manner,” shared a Virginia Garcia staff member, “because those of us who go to these lectures all day long are bored to death and we know that we don’t get much out of it. I like this format and I think it should be incorporated more into what we do here as adults – and also at school where our children are learning.”
Eric Oslund, MSW, Employee Performance and Talent Development Manager, stated “What’s really great about this is that I can run it. I need a handful of people, but I don’t need outside expertise to run this workshop. Anybody can run this stuff, which is great."
As the session came to a close, we felt fulfilled by having provided an opportunity for the clinic’s staff members to learn through choice, action, and shared interaction with one another.
Today’s workshop was different than other training. It was more interactive.
A bit of backstory on the Virginia Garcia Clinic: The organization was formed in 1975 when six year-old Virginia Garcia, the daughter of migrant farm workers, tragically passed away as a result of complications from a cut on her foot – a wound that should have been easily treatable were it not for the language, cultural, and economic barriers standing in the way of receiving proper medical care. The founders of Virginia Garcia vowed to prevent anything like this from happening again, and a mission was born. Ever since, the nonprofit has been providing culturally appropriate healthcare to migrant workers and other individuals with barriers to receiving medical care.